Friday, June 25, 2010

Motivational problems in kids: clue about depression to come?

Motivational problems in kids are probably an indicator of what may happen in the future.  I don't have access to any of the studies on motivation and depression in kids that are out there, but I can share an anecdote.
In the fifth grade, I was ready to resume my place as one of the smart kids.  I'd spent a year with a teacher who hated children so deeply that I have carried a dislike of tenure ever since, but this year I had a teacher whom I respected, and who liked me.
We were given a science assignment, the specifics I can't recall but my excitement over it I remember clearly.  I actually took my teacher aside and asked him if there was a maximum word count, because I was afraid I would write too much.
Something happened, though, and it didn't turn out quite like I expected.  I lost interest in the project, and I did the fifth-grade equivalent of "phoning it in."  It was so poor, in fact, that my teacher took me out in the hall to talk to me about it.  "You asked me for a maximum word count," he said, his disappointment showing in his every word, "but this is a minimum of a minimum!  How can I accept this from you?"
I didn't have an answer for him.  Sure, I had problems with a bully and a few kids who made fun of me from time to time, but that was nothing new.  Family life wasn't perfect but the parents weren't beating us or preparing for a divorce.  I had been hit, and hit hard, with a lack of motivation, and I had no clue why.
I can't fault my teacher or parents for not recognizing it in the 1970s, but I was showing early depressive symptoms.  Not every child is lazy if they don't do the work, and not every child is suffering from vision problems (which I first got corrected in fifth grade, as a matter of fact) or reading disabilities.  Some of them are having troubles which are completely beyond their comprehension.

The fact that "depression" means both "sad" and "serious condition affecting the brain" only adds to the confusion, making it more of a challenge for parents and teachers to tell the difference.

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